The following is a work-in-progress prologue to my novella, Be Brave, Little Bear. The story is inspired by the song “Little Bear”, written by my friend Scott Cumpston and performed on the regular by his band R.I.O. I first heard it in 2005 (maybe 2006), and was struck so by its loving message from a parent to his child. It is a message of hope, of unconditional love; an urging to tolerate the often terrible circumstances of life so that we can appreciate the good in it. Most of all, it is a plea to fill the world with positivity — something that seems is always in short supply. Enjoy.
Beatrice Kostas lived in Queens, New York, about ten minutes from LaGuardia Airport. The farthest she had ever ventured from home was Midtown Manhattan, and only once. Her neighborhood was teeming with children her same age, yet she spent her days alone. She was, for all intents and purposes, an unfortunate child.
Beatrice was overweight. More accurately, Beatrice was chubby — certainly in no danger of being “fat”, were it not for the society into which she had been born. Posters in her gym class flaunted a lean, respectable figure to which she was told she should aspire. Television had bred in the public conscious the meme that svelte was superior, and anything less (or, rather, more) was to be abhorred. And Beatrice was abhorred by her fellow students. They would mimic the sound of earthquakes wherever she walked, and oink like pigs whenever she answered questions in class. She had been made a pariah by pure virtue of her DNA simply doing as it was told. Her feelings were not spared at the end of each school day, when the other children ran home with glee.
Very little good could be said of Beatrice’s home life. Her father left when she was still sleeping in her mother’s womb, and the man who came to take his place was far from noble. He was, Beatrice’s suspected, a monster who had disguised himself so well that even her mother — a very bright, yet overly trusting, soul — failed to see through the guise. His fits were excused by a strict upbringing, and his violent tendencies pardoned by his being “misunderstood”. Beatrice didn’t believe a word of it. The man who begrudgingly took Beatrice and her mother under his roof was, more likely, an ogre lying in wait.
His name was Vernon Rehnquist, and he was a drinker. He didn’t have a trade like so many of the other fathers in the burrow. At one time he had been a construction worker with the city, but one day Vernon lost his footing while traversing an I-Beam. There were suspicions that he had intended to fall, but the insurance agents could find no proof of misconduct — save for the fall, which one co-worker described as being “unconvincingly clumsy”. The money from his disability claim allowed Vernon to sit in his recliner all day, watching local news and drunkenly lamenting the state of the modern working class.
“Bunch of entitled, self-righteous pansies!” Vernon would slur, looking at the television through his beer bottle hoping to find one last drop waiting to be lapped up. His favorite group to condemn were public school teachers, who had taken to protesting their unfair wages. “If I could walk, I’d stroll in there and do their jobs for half the money they already get. Let ‘em see how good they have it!”
With that, Vernon stumbled from his recliner and carried his beer-logged body into the kitchen for another drink.
Beatrice had sequestered herself in her modest room where she read during her free time, a habit she had long enjoyed but was “a sure sign that she would grow up misanthropic and ill-adjusted”. This was according to the other parents in the neighborhood, at least, all of whom learned their parental duties from books they were sold on TV. They saw her reclusion as a developing social impairment, a toxic behavior that would limit her options for a good life down the road.
Beatrice knew otherwise, though she would remain silent whenever her mother and Vernon took her to task. It pained her to keep her motivation a secret, but what else could she do? How could she tell her mother the horrible things that Vernon would do after he had been drinking? How could she bare her soul and describe the terrible things her classmates would say to her on a nearly daily basis? How could she do any of it without upsetting the “natural order of things”, as Vernon would rationalize?
Books were Beatrice’s only friends, her only source of bliss. It hadn’t always been that way, of course. There was a time when her mother had been very close to her. They would walk three blocks to the public playground, and they would re-enact some of Beatrice’s favorite fairy tales. Beatrice’s mother would stand atop the wooden playhouse and pretend to be a damsel in distress, and Beatrice would battle fearsome dragons or wily witches in order to save the day. The two would hop into a pair of swings, which they imagined to be horses, and would ride off into the sunset. After returning home and taking a bath, Beatrice would fall asleep as her mother read to her from a hand-me-down copy of Grimm’s Fairy Tales. Some times her mother would sleep in the bed with her, her fingers running along Beatrice’s scalp and along her back. But those days had ended.
To make ends meet after Vernon’s “accident”, Beatrice’s mother had to find work in the city. She hadn’t any education outside of high school, and could never afford classes at the Adult Education Center of Astoria. These factors limited her options — damn near cut them off at the knee. She had managed to find secretarial work with NaviQuest Globaltronics, a powerhouse corporation located in the Financial District. The pay was lousy, and the hours criminally long. She would return every night to find Vernon struck catatonic in his recliner with the TV still on, and Beatrice long-since asleep in her room.
This was Beatrice’s life, but it wouldn’t stay that way for long. Tomorrow was her birthday, and a new friend would come kicking and screaming into her home.